Opposition to the Scottish Government’s pledge to produce 100 per cent of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 grew last night as environmentalists and energy experts united to condemn the plan.
Mountain walker and broadcaster Cameron McNeish is the latest name to be added to the growing list of experts who believe the First Minister’s plans to create more green energy north of the Border are unsustainable – and could ruin Scotland’s much-loved landscape.
To meet the new target, Scotland would need to create hundreds more wind turbines and also bring wave and tidal energy technology to commercialisation – a feat which some engineers believe is impossible within the next decade.
Mr McNeish claimed that the creation of more wind farms would “erode the bonnie aspect of Bonnie Scotland” and could devastate the tourism industry, which is heavily reliant on visitors drawn to Scotland’s remote mountains and lochs.
Scottish Engineering chief executive Peter Hughes has claimed that the target is unattainable – while conservation group the John Muir Trust has also hit out at plans for more onshore wind developments on Scottish wild land.
Mr McNeish, president of the Backpackers Club and chairman of the Nevis Partnership, warned that the development of onshore wind farms would blight the Scottish landscape and urged voters to select MSPs focused on channelling money into wave, tidal and offshore wind developments.
He said: “I support the quest for renewable energy. But what really concerns me is the proliferation of these giant turbines on our hills and wild places. I know the number of people who come to Scotland to enjoy these wild places and I have a great fear that they will stop coming as we lose more and more of these areas to this form of industrialisation.”
He added: “The bonnie aspect of Bonnie Scotland is being eroded.”
This week, Mr Salmond set a target of generating 100 per cent of Scotland’s electricity demand from renewables by 2020 in his party’s manifesto.
The target was raised from 80 per cent – already one of the highest of its kind in the world.
But a document released by the SNP this week showed that the new aim would require an extra 1,598MW of onshore wind power to be created – five times the size of Glasgow’s 140-turbine Whitelee windfarm, the biggest in Europe.
A further 17MW of electricity would need to be produced through wave and tidal power developments, which currently are only in the development stage.
“No matter what party people vote for we are going to get more wind farms,” said Mr McNeish.
“But I suggest that people ask their election candidates if this money is being spent wisely or would it be much better spent on other forms of renewable energy.”
Critics have comdemned the SNP’s policy as unattainable.
Mr Hughes said: “I believe that a sensible target for Scotland would be 30 per cent – with a backup from nuclear. The problem with wind power is that it sometimes just doesn’t blow.
“Alex Salmond has said that Scotland will be the Saudia Arabia of marine energy – in his dreams. Marine energy may not make a significant contribution to the national grid for 20 years or more.”
Dave Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland, backed Mr McNeish’s call for action
Earlier this year, a report from Scottish Natural Heritage blamed a growing number of wind farms, as well as pylons, for a loss of wilderness.
It said that in the past year the amount of land not visually blighted by man-made structures had shrunk by an area 14 times the size of Glasgow.
Conservation body the John Muir Trust branded the report “deeply worrying.
Helen McDade, head of policy for the trust said: “Scotland’s landscape is being severely impacted and that is very much ongoing. But on top of that, questions are growing over whether the policy would actually be able to deliver.”
According to industry body Scottish Renewables, 117 onshore wind projects currently operate in Scotland, using 1,367 turbines and boasting a capacity of 2,395 megawatts. Another 20 projects, totalling over 450 turbines and a capacity of 1,008M, are under construction and a further 281, totalling 4,056 turbines and with a capacity of 9,916MW, are in the planning system.
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said less than 1 per cent of Scotland’s landmass is occupied by turbines.
“Onshore wind is the most readily deployed, cost efficient and effective form of renewable energy in Scotland, which is already providing more than 10 per cent of our electricity needs,” he said, adding that Whitelee windfarm is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions.
Professor John Lennon, an expert in worldwide tourism at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggested that Scotland should designate certain areas as wind farm zones, rather than spread them throughout the country.
“There is no doubt that wind turbines do intrude on the landscape, as they are not natural structures.”
But he added: “However, research we have carried out, in locations like Stirling Castle, where a windfarm can clearly be seen, is that tourists are largely indifferent towards them. They are more worried about the impact of nuclear or coal-fired power stations than wind farms.
“It’s also important that the goverment doesn’t just invest in wind farms, when there are other natural resources, like tidal energy, that can be used.”
An SNP spokesman said: “The document published by the SNP setting out how we can generate 100 per cent of Scotland’s own electricity consumption from renewables by 2020 – endorsed by leading renewable energy companies, and Iberdrola as ‘entirely credible’ – sets out how the biggest share of renewable power will come from offshore wind and wave and tidal, not onshore wind.
“Only something like a twentieth of a per cent of Scotland’s land has onshore windfarms.”
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